Our weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment…and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
It's time for Planet Rugby's weekly wrap up of who has their name in lights at the moment…and who is making the headlines for the wrong reasons.
They're on fire!
Waratahs: Impressive once again, this time with a big win in Brisbane, the 'Tahs must be considered the outstanding favourites for the Super Rugby title. Yet another full haul of points means the Michael Cheika's team finish the regular season seven clear of the Crusaders at the top of the standings having secured no less than nine try-scoring bonus points in 16 games. Spectacular.
Crusaders: Having come in for a lot of criticism is the early part of the season, Todd Blackadder's troops have been on an upward curve ever since their successful tour of South Africa jump-started their campaign. With nine wins from their last eleven games, a weekend off coming up and Richie McCaw returning for a home semi-final in Christchurch, the seven-time champs look on course for their eleventh final.
Sharks: We've been vocal critics of the Sharks' no-frills approach but credit where credit is due. Jake White's team have the best defensive record in Super Rugby in 2014, conceding just 22 tries all year. Having inflicted the Stormers' heaviest defeat at Newlands in seven years over the weekend, they take plenty of momentum into the play-offs.
Chiefs: The defending champs are still alive! They become the first team to win at Eden Park this year to sneak into the play-off via the back door. They're famous for their counter-attacking, but let's not forget that the Chiefs have the best tackling stats of any team in the competition this year.
Lions: Hands up if you didn't write the season the Lions off before the start of the season…Kudos to Johan Ackermann and his troops for defying the odds in their best-ever season, which saw them finish above the 2011 champions and just one point behind the Stormers. Scoring 60 points at Ellis Park on the last day should help boost attendance number next year.
Kurtley Beale, Israel Folau and Bernard Foley: No wonder the 'Tahs have had a phenomenal season. These three dominate the attacking stats for the regular season. Beale and Foley were first and second for most carries with the fly-half also scoring the most points. Folau scored the most tries, made the most clean breaks and the most offloads.
Malakai Fekitoa and Ben Smith: Fekitoa is the find of the year, surely. The Highlanders youngster topped the charts for defenders beaten this term. A whopping 61 tacklers failed to stop the 22-year-old. A megastar of future. Meanwhile, his skipper made more metres with ball in hand than any other player, no less than 1182!
Stephan Lewies: In his debut Super Rugby season, the new Springbok was the competition's top line-out catcher with 77 clean takes. Only Victor Matfield even came close.
Matt Hodgson: The season's top tackler with 234 hits, the Force loose forward worked his tail off.
Super Rugby Play-offs: It was with a hint of irony that Sharks boss Jake White questioned the logic behind the play-offs after Saturday's win in Cape Town.
“If we have a situation where the top two team consistently play each other in the final we have to look if we should just scrap the play-offs,” he said.
“[Home field advantage and the travel involved in the play-offs] mean the teams coming first or second have a 90 percent chance of winning the competition, so why play these matches at all?
“From the point of view of player welfare, preparation for Test matches, the cost…all those things must come into account. If one plays two every year anyway, then we're wasting everybody's time.”
Get these guys a warm cup of soup!
SA Conference: It's been a very poor year for South African sides in general with only one out of five franchises finishing in the top half of the overall standings. Super Rugby is designed to reward positive endeavour via the bonus-point system. SA teams produced just 12 try bonus points in 2014 compared to 26 in the Kiwi Conference and 21 in Australia. Time for a change in mentality?
Reds: The biggest disappointment of the year? The Queenslanders finished third-last, a massive 30 points beyond their rivals from New South Wales. The 2011 champions looked stale and suffered horribly in Quade Cooper's injury-enforced absence. Time for some fresh faces and fresh ideas.
Bulls: The stats paint a dire picture: The men from Pretoria are at the bottom of the charts in terms of tries scored, clean breaks, metres gained, defenders beaten, offloads and ruck success. Enough said.
Cheetahs: How things can change in a year. After coming breathtakingly close to the semi-finals last year, the Cheetahs finished their 2014 campaign with whimper in Jo'burg, a result which condemned them to last in the SA Conference. Always sure to entertain, it was the age-old problem of a fragile defence that came back to haunt Naka Drotske's team as they conceded an average of 33 points per game. 11 yellow cards didn't help. Ouch.
Rebels: Stone last – for the second time in four years – with the worst points difference in Super Rugby. Does Australia have the depth to field five competitive franchises?